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A Turkish ‘Foreigner’ in Turkey

24 Ekim 2011 , Pazartesi 12:07
A Turkish ‘Foreigner’ in Turkey

Growing up in another country (in my case, the US) can give one a different perspective and an outlook on life, only to be accepted on how different it can be after settling down in the other (in this case, Turkey). Being of both nationalities kindles the situation, initially accepting and making excuses for differences of both as not to be upset by either.

Individuals are proud to be American because the importance of nationality is instilled in children at a very young age – in schools, in local communities, as well as individual religious places of worship – regardless of ethnic differences.  Individuals sense a belonging to a community, a region and a country and learn to help one another and accept each other with their differences –thus the country’s strength.

Turkey is also a country comprised of many nationalities. The founder of the nation, Ataturk, the father of the Turks, had the magnetism of uniting people under one flag, minorities alike, to create a strong nation.  Subsequent administrations have proven strong at times and weak at others as all over the world, but it has been the ‘indifference’ of citizens regardless of ethnic diversity that has been a cause of the  shortcoming in the country.

Hence, ‘A Turkish foreigner in Turkey’, struck me as an appropriate title for how I still feel detached from the average ‘Ahmet’ on the street and more so from those in the workplace in spite of all the years I’ve lived here.  My leading obstacle, as it is true for many of my Turkish-American friends, is and has been social/ behavioral differences – basically not being able to interact or communicate fully with others, especially in the workplace.

I‘ve noticed a trend in the past few years of ex-pats returning to Turkey; those who either settled abroad and are moving back for their retirement, or their children who were born outside the country and are returning because they are offered better positions professionally in Turkey.  

Working in a Turkish environment where others treat you like a Turk because you look and sound like a Turk, perhaps even speak better Turkish than many others, is however, the hitch many of us have faced moving to Turkey. Born to Turkish parents and raised in the US, I have an edge in fluency in both languages, for I grew up in an English speaking environment yet spoke Turkish in my household.   Culturally, I blended with my heritage yet absorbed the behavior and actions of the land of my birth, with which I grew up identifying and embracing throughout my life.  This is why I felt quite at ease moving to Istanbul at first, believing that I would have it easier than both Turkish and non-Turkish friends alike.

This, of course, did not hold true, for I faced a bigger revelation than most; specifically with the aloofness and the indifference of many individuals here.

I sometimes find it difficult to bid good morning or even to smile at others on the street for the odd and unfriendly looks I receive.  Why can’t people who live in the same neighborhood greet one another?

Why feel ‘foreign’? I am a member of this country, yet feel more comfortable among others of different nationalities only because they are more straightforward with their comments and actions.  I find it healthier and more assuring to face problems directly, however displeased we all may be with the results.

Finally, the lack of teamwork in general, the desire to assist, or simply lend a hand to others trying to fulfill tasks…  I have received my share of negative comments when I’ve asked people the simple task of not littering, simply on my street - yet something simple as this should have no physical or individual boundaries. Do I give up? Of course not – I like my Istanbul streets clean.


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